Clearly, the factors that make up the top athletes are much more complicated than that, not just by a dominant gene in the body. Most recently, a team of geneticists at the University of Glasgow, Scotland proposed that the genomes of the most successful athletes were combined, influenced by different genetic traits.
While waiting for the final results of the gene’s impact, another reason is given to explain that athletes from Africa often have to walk or run long distances from an early age. Stories of athletes from Ethiopia, Jamaica or Kenya walking to school about 5 to 20km have become familiar.
However, scientists in Northern Europe have demonstrated that early training does not give too many advantages to African athletes. The report shows that the Nordic athletes with VO2max (the maximum amount of oxygen that the body can load and consume in a minute) is not inferior to their African colleagues. In other words, the fitness level of African athletes is not different.
So where is the difference? Scientists believe that altitude is part of the answer. Many famous athletes of Kenya and Ethiopia were born and raised in an area of 2,000-2,500 m above sea level. This helps them improve the amount of hemoglobin (a protein in the blood that helps transport oxygen throughout the body) and haematocrit (the volume of red blood cells), leading to better working capacity of the muscles.
Not only that, East African athletes also have the ability to train with high intensity at this height. Iten and Addis Ababa – the two main training centers of Kenyan and Ethiopian athletes – are located at an altitude of about 2,400m above sea level.
It is the training in such strenuous conditions that helps African athletes adapt to running fast and durable without releasing much lactic acid which causes fatigue, contributing to significantly improving running performance.
There will be more research done but until now, it can be seen that the two good factors that make an important contribution to the success of African athletes come from special mechanics as well as forging ability and being trained in difficult conditions.